I’m sitting on a marble bench. In front of me stands the Taj Mahal, magnificent, symmetrical. The serenity of the place astounds despite how many of us clamour for the money shot, the memory. But this moment, and the memory I’m making, has been interrupted.
Next to me sits my ‘guide’, a man with verbal diarrhoea. I’m not sure if he’s visited the Taj so often it’s old news to him. I’m not even sure if he’s aware of his trespass. I am certain, however, that he doesn’t care.
Nevermind the magnificence in front of me, this man insists on talking about himself
. Nonstop. And then out come the photos of his wife and daughter. He’s also sitting a little closer than is necessary, breathing his lunch all over me.
I nod, smile and feign interest – my learned co-dependency allows me to coo at the picture, to let him know that I’m okay with his intrusion. But I’m not okay with it, really not okay at all
. Beneath the benign smile my fury simmers. Yet my enduring silence grants him permission to continue. I consider filing a complaint after the event
If I were a man, I wonder, would he encroach on me in this way? Would he pour his narcissism all over me? Would he be so comfortable stealing this memory I’m making, which should be mine and mine alone?
But I don’t have answers to these questions since there’s too much cultural disparity at play. Instead I reach the conclusion that I have led this man on
with my niceness, with my need to please. My lack of objection or resistance has signalled to him that I’m okay with this situation. Ergo the situation is my fault
And there it is.
What do I expect as a white woman travelling solo? It’s my first trip to India, after all, and I’m just learning the do’s and don’t’s. I’m deposited daily at my hotel and told not to leave until a chaperone returns. I wait for hours, obediently, watching others come and go at whim. This is no adventure
But nobody is holding me prisoner other than myself. I may have taken this trip as an act of a rebellion against the stuffy old prejudices I’d grown up with, but somehow I’m still being the good girl
. Despite my efforts to reject beliefs that don’t belong to me, a system I don’t buy into, I’ve dragged it 5,000 miles across the globe with me.
And so it goes.
No matter how badly we want to change a thing, or a belief, we can’t until we burn our allegiance to it. Simply denouncing something just won’t do. Instead we have to dig it up by the roots, to excavate whatever exists at a subconscious level. Likely it’s a belief system we’ve grown up within, which means it’s also grown up inside of us.
So why tell you this story?
Because, in hindsight, I see how this was one of many events that seeded my coming out. One of many happenings over the course of my 30 plus years – both large and small – that finally
broke my allegiance to the old system.
This coming out I speak of wasn’t so much an event but an evolution, an emerging clarity. It was something that I’d not been able to articulate for a long time, until I could: I am a feminist
And there it is.
So what, you say. Here’s what. Feminism burns beliefs – it burns barriers to fairness, respect and empathy – not bras. It’s the complete opposite of the masculine system currently holding us in place – one that’s built on apathy, fear and prejudice.
It’s not about putting women first, or any minority above the majority, but pitching everyone at the same level. It’s about redressing the balance all around. And so feminism strikes a chord with me as a women and a human
For me it’s not academic or angry, it’s a response to my accumulated experience, my ongoing observation of the ways in which we hurt ourselves. It’s a feeling that’s been with me for a long time, but I’ve only just discovered its name. And, being human, I like to label things. Ironic how it took a label to help me look beneath all the other labels.
Feminism has helped me to understand what I misunderstood about myself – to put my puzzle together
, to understand where, why and how I didn’t fit in. It’s allowed me to dismantle difficult and self-destructive beliefs, to make sense of personal dilemmas, as well as the bigger picture stuff. Most of all, feminism helps me understand how and why change is both necessary and possible.
Take that day at the Taj, for example, where I sat festering and fuming. I was nigh on terrified of that man’s disapproval. Nevermind that he displeased me, I couldn’t bare not to please him because I (like so many of us) had internalised our world's need for co-dependence and conformity.
If we don’t play by the rules of the system we imagine all kinds of rejection, which is why we act in ways that protect ourselves. We’re so engrossed in the business of self-defence that we imagine attack where there is none. And when we make enemies out of everyone, we undermine our shared experience, expression and growth as both men and women.
That’s why feminism doesn’t just address women’s problems, but human problems. It’s as diverse as the diversity it asks us to embrace.
Which brings us back to India, a country I’ve visited many times, alone and un-chaperoned, since that day at the Taj. It’s the place that opened my heart and mind in ways I could not have foreseen. It’s the place that finally broke my allegiance to the system (and broke me, but that’s another story for another day).
Once broken, however, I could rebuild something different, but not necessarily new. It’s not that feminism is old news so much as the majority understanding of it is. The f word is still too out there for many, but this resistance tells me it has something of value to offer. Anything that makes us uncomfortable, that challenges the norm, also enhances our shared experience, expression and growth as both men and women.
I’m told repeatedly that gender is irrelevant in today’s post-feminist world. Does that mean race and colour are also a non-issue, or sexual and religious preference? Feminism says no, fuck the rulebook, and asks us instead to embrace the necessity and beauty of difference and diversity.
I’ve been a long-time advocate for self-expression, for encouraging people to find the freedom within themselves to be themselves, but this takes it to a new level. It’s a rally cry, really, change doesn’t just get delivered alongside your organic veggie box. Yep, I’m gonna say it folks, we have to be it
Let’s do this. Who's with me?